Monday, November 30, 2009

More about Sparkly Vampires and Chaste Kisses

It's no secret that I am critical of the rabid infection cultural phenomenon that is the Twilight series, as I have written about them here and here. Others too have written -- more eloquently and more in-depth than I -- about its problematic treatments of gender and race. The relationship between Bella and Edward has raised the ire of many readers, both female and male. I thought I'd highlight some of the discussions of the Twilight series that I've read.

An assemblage of writings in the blogosphere (and in print too!) raises many of these issues:

Their relationship is unhealthy. Edward is abusive and controlling, in the name of protection. Edward restricts Bella's access to her friends. Edward locks her in the house so she can't leave. Edward dismantles her truck. Oh also, if they had sex, Edward could kill her. Literally. I'm not looking to get injured or killed during sex, thankyouverymuch. Oh, see the signs of an abusive relationship.

When they finally consummate their marriage -- "consummate" sounds so antiquated--- Edward is gives Bella bruises, which she hides from him.
Edward, lost in his own lust, “makes love” so violently to Bella that she wakes up the next morning covered in bruises, the headboard in ruins from Edward’s romp. And guess what? Bella likes it. In fact, she loves it. She even tries to hide her bruises so Edward won’t feel bad. If the abstinence message in the previous books was ever supposed to be empowering, this scene, presented early in Breaking Dawn, undoes everything.
 (Bitch Magazine)

Bella's most prominent trait is low self-esteem.
Ms. Magazine "Taking a Bite Out of Twilight":
But few young readers ask, “Why not Team Bella?” perhaps because the answer is quite clear: There can be no Team Bella. Even though Bella is ostensibly a hero, in truth she is merely an object in the Twilight world."

The obsession with Bella's virginity. Bitch Magazine calls this "abstinence porn". It really is porn, since Bella and Edward's relationship is completely unrealistic, just like porn is.
The Twilight series has created a surprising new sub-genre of teen romance: It’s abstinence porn, sensational, erotic, and titillating. And in light of all the recent real-world attention on abstinence-only education, it’s surprising how successful this new genre is. Twilight actually convinces us that self-denial is hot.

Interestingly enough, the movie Twilight was altered to be more feminist friendly, according to Carmen Siering, which only seems to prove that many people find their relationship uncomfortable.
Director Catherine Hardwicke’s film version of Twilight remains true to the novel, but there are subtle changes that make it much more feminist-friendly. Kristin Stewart’s Bella is more outspoken and forthright, and Robert Pattinson’s Edward is much less condescending and overbearing. Their relationship seems to be built on equality and friendship, and includes scenes of mutual sexual frustration and restraint.
Now Bella and Edward have finally had sex, of course Bella gets pregnant. Anna N. of Jezebel critiques the depiction teen motherhood and the antiabortion overtones surrounding Bella's pregnancy.
This creepy antiabortion allegory quickly gets literal, as the half-vampire fetus (actually an interesting metaphor for any pregnancy) starts killing Bella from the inside out. Even as it breaks her ribs and sucked the life from her, she proclaims, "I won't kill him." But does she have to face the consequences of this choice? No, because vampire magic suddenly allows mother and father to hear the fetus's thoughts, and to discover that it already loves them!
Because she is now a vampire, Bella is even hotter than she was before pregnancy, and after a short recovery period she's able to have all-night sex sessions with her husband while the extended family takes care of the perfectly behaved, telepathic baby. In the Breaking Dawn universe, teen motherhood just makes your life rad.
This is the first time I've heard that you can have all-night sex as parents of a newborn. Yay. And it's alright morally because they're married. Maybe I should pop out a few kids.

About Jacob, the Quileute werewolf: Many readers were pleased with the inclusion of Jacob as a major character in the series, but still found his characterization problematic. According to Latoya Peterson at Racialicious, Jacob means "people of color are exoticized and sexualized – and often dangerous" and Bella's use of racial slurs, calling Jacob a mongrel. 

I am particularly fond of this description of New Moon, the new Twilight movie.  
Have you ever heard something along the lines of “dating someone who is [insert ethnic/racial group] ok, but you’d better not marry one!” or “Native Americans are so in touch with nature!”? Have you ever seen a film or tv show that relegated the person of color as the trusty sidekick, loyal friend, or temporary romantic plaything, only then to have the white hero enter in medias res and get all the praise and attention? Have you ever seen a piece from an ad campaign or historical policy discussions in which non-white people are portrayed as animalistic, in both their behavior, thought processes, and athletic ability? Have you, as a person of color, or if you are not, any of your POC friends, ever complained of feeling that their societal value was reduced to their physical appearance or a specific body part? If you answered “yes” to any of the above, you have already seen New Moon.

This guy has a sense of humor as he review Twilight.
"Younger people seem to love this book, think it's brilliant and everyone else says that it's shit."

I think actually I'm going to split this Twilight entry into two parts. I'll end it here for now. Next I want to acknowledge Twilight's appeal.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

From the archives: Do you feel liberated?

I have a lot of half-written blog drafts saved, I don't know about other bloggers, but it seems that a lot of the  entries I start I never finish. I was looking back at some old drafts and saw this one that I think deserves to be published because I think much about commitments I have made and the ones to make in the future.

This was drafted on April 13, 2009 and if there's any similarity between then and now, it's that the end of the semester is approaching. This means the workload is picking up in preparation for finals and I am looking ahead to the next semester. Since I will be spending it in another country, I have a lot of things to figure out...
Over the weekend I went to Starbucks. This was the quotation on my cup. I wrote it down on a napkin and took it with me.

The Way I See It #76

The cup reads: The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating -- in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.
The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Choice Words: Women's Work

Originally appeared on July 27th, 2009

Over the weekend, one of the most read articles on the BBC News website was The Women Who Clear Sudan’s Minefields.
Jamba Besta had planned to be a secretary, hoping to find work in an office as her homeland of South Sudan emerged out of a 22-year long civil war. Instead, the pregnant mother heads an all-female team of de-miners, removing dangerous explosives from former battlefields.
“I never thought I would be doing this,” says Ms Besta, welcoming her six-woman team back from the danger zone they are clearing.
“But it shows those people who think that women can’t do jobs like this that they are wrong.”
The team’s members say they work better as an all-women team – supporting each other against often critical comments that de-mining is work only for a man.
Similar all-women teams work elsewhere in the world, including Kosovo and Cambodia.
I have no illusions that mine-clearing is dangerous work, but this makes me feel so proud of women around the world, women who are taking an active role in rebuilding their communities, supporting each other, and challenging views of what work is appropriate for women.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Getting to Denmark in More Ways than One

Last week I felt like I was living the idea of the "university student" because I went to a fascinating lecture on the origins of the state by a scholar in international affairs.

I may not have attended this lecture by Francis Fukuyama at the Kellogg Center last night if  Francis Fukuyama's picture had not been popping up on the Aarhus University homepage. I've been frequenting that website since it is where I will be studying abroad in the spring semester. Several months ago I noticed that he is Visiting Professor there.

Even though no doubt both Fukuyama and I are traveling to Denmark, Fukuyama is concerned with the modern state, which Denmark is represents. His lectures are titled "Getting to Denmark: Where the State, Rule of Law, and Accountable Government Come From". (It's same as the title as his forthcoming book, I think.) Basically, the premise is that Denmark is a mythical country with effective and uncorrupt institutions, peace, democracy, good living standards -- all the things that developing countries want. These three components: state, rule of law, accountable government are all necessary for political order.

Fukuyama's thesis is that ancient China was the first modern state. Other great civilizations at the time -- Romans, Egyptians, Mesopotamians -- were not modern states as he defines them. Basically a modern state is impersonal, administered by meritocratic bureaucrats who levy taxes, muster armies, redistribute land. It is not a patronizing society. He said that in a modern state, you don't hire your cousin to be the chief tax collector; you hire the person who is best at administering tax collections.
I thought this was a fascinating lecture, not only because it filled my heart with Chinese pride, because Fukuyama's broader approach to modern state. His examples were from ancient, like, 1000 B.C.E., Chinese history and similar times in Indian history.

While China was the first modern state, it is missing the rule of law and accountable government. Without these two, Fukuyama said that China is just a more perfect tyranny. This has its advantages and disadvantages. The government can do whatever it wants very quickly. Want to build a dam and displace three million people? Done. Want to build world's highest railway from to Tibet? Just do it. The millions of people who will be displaced can stamp their feet but their interests are ultimately not considered.

Initially I was disappointed that I would not be in East Lansing for his third and fourth lectures, as I will be in Denmark, of all places. But I found videos of previous versions of these lectures he gave at Johns Hopkins University.

His first lecture, which I didn't go to, was on the origins of the state. I mean, the origins, like from

Jumping back to my life, I'm literally going to Denmark in about a month and a half so I'm deeply mired in the logistics of setting up life there for six months. Over the weekend I booked my round trip flight to Copenhagen, January 3 to June 22, 2010.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Mixing metaphors

"She remembered Nana saying once that each snowflake was a sigh heaved by an aggrieved woman somewhere in the world. That all the sighs drifted up the sky, gathered into clouds, then broke into tiny pieces that fell silently on the people below. As a reminder of how women like us suffer, she'd said. How quietly we endure all that falls upon us."
- Khaled Hosseini A Thousand Splendid Suns

Earlier this evening swept away by this book. I picked it up from the bookstore intending to skim the first page and I was wrapped up in it for the next several hours, neglecting the homework I had spread out before me. It's a little bit like being out of control because I wanted to continue reading the book but I also had a lot on my to-do list. I would have finished A Thousand Splendid Suns in one sitting if the Barnes &Noble didn't close at 10pm.

The feeling captured in this quotation (and in much of A Thousand Splendid Suns) reminds me of a Chinese expression 命苦,literally a bitter life, as in to have a bitter life. This meaning of bitter is endurance through a lifetime of pain, grief, and harshness is used a lot in Chinese. I guess it's also used to some extent in English, though I think bitter more often describes cynical and rancorous outlook on life.

I admit Hosseini's plotlines are rather melodramatic but I can't deny that I was moved by stories of women against the backdrop of violence, political turmoil, and the snow-capped mountains.I think this is what drew me to A Thousand Splendid Suns rather than The Kite Runner, which explores the relationships among men, fathers, and sons.

It hasn't snowed yet this winter though I think it will soon. And when it does, I will think about the snowflakes. 

Monday, November 23, 2009

Pre-Teen Life, Part II

For all the middle school nostalgia, there were things I don't miss from the summer of 2000, when I was 11 and moving up to 7th grade:

Abercrombie and Fitch and American Eagle brands were the markers of popularity. In fact, the cult of popularity seemed to rise out of nowhere. I think this is where I gathered there was a social stratification around the hallways that run in a square around the perimeter of the Clague Middle School courtyard, just as social stratification existed in the "real world" outside the plot of land at the corner of Nixon and Bluett Roads by income, by class, by race.

Sometime in middle school, East Asian girls showed up with brown or reddish brown highlights in their hair. I desperately wanted at the time but my mom wouldn't let me do it. Her reason was that the chemicals in hair dye were bad for me, but I thought her main reason for denying me this wish was because it was expensive. But I'm glad I held out until that desired passed from me. I am satisfied with my natural hair color now. I don't think that dying one's hair is a manifestation of discomfort with one's racial identity. It's far more complicated that just wanting to be white. I know that I'm not gonna be white if I have light brown hair. But there is an element of cultural tweaking that makes me uncomfortable.

I really wanted a second piercing in my ear, right above the first one that I have had since I was about five. I thought about it very seriously and actually convinced my parents to let me do this when I turned the very mature age of 13. But then I chickened out because I was afraid of the pain. I have a higher tolerance for pain now, but thank god I didn't go through with it then. I think they look so tacky now.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Choice Words: Twilight vs. Buffy

I think this post, which first appeared on July 29th, is particularly relevant because New Moon has just been released.

July 29th, 2009 by Chen
I haven’t been living under a rock, so I know that the Twilight book/movie/pop culture phenomenon is hugely popular. Almost as big as Twilight’s fandom is the amount of discussion about Bella and Edward’s relationship. Everyone’s got an opinion. I guess I’m not that qualified to review Twilight since I have not read the books or seen the movie, but I have been reading the blogosphere debates (flame wars?) about vampire guy/human girl relationships. I defer to this YouTube video and its accompanying explanation by its creator. I think it best shows that not all vampire/human relationships and male/female romances have to play out Stephanie Meyer’s way. And it’s funny.

Jonathan McIntosh of Rebellious Pixel, created this video and explains the reason for making it:
In this re-imagined narrative, Edward Cullen from the Twilight Series meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It’s an example of transformative storytelling serving as a pro-feminist visual critique of Edward’s character and generally creepy behavior. Seen through Buffy’s eyes, some of the more sexist gender roles and patriarchal Hollywood themes embedded in the Twilight saga are exposed – in hilarious ways. Ultimately this remix is about more than a decisive showdown between the slayer and the sparkly vampire. It also doubles as a metaphor for the ongoing battle between two opposing visions of gender roles in the 21st century.
Before seeing this video, I have read critiques of Twilight, contrasting it with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, such as this review from Salon.
Comparisons to another famous human girl with a vampire boyfriend are inevitable, but Bella Swan is no Buffy Summers. “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” was at heart one of those mythic hero’s journeys so beloved by Joseph Campbell-quoting screenwriters, albeit transfigured into something sharp and funny by making the hero a contemporary teenage girl. Buffy wrestled with a series of romantic dilemmas — in particular a penchant for hunky vampires — but her story always belonged to her. Fulfilling her responsibilities as a slayer, loyalty to her friends and family, doing the right thing and cobbling together some semblance of a healthy life were all ultimately as important, if not more important, to her than getting the guy.
Jonathan McIntosh writes a longer expose on Twilight/Buffy called What Would Buffy Do?
There are readers and moviegoers who simultaneously object to Bella and Edward’s antifeminist relationship and enjoy the series. I may be even be such a fan, if I ever watch more than the movie trailer or the book review. But I don’t think I will pick up the books because if I’m in the mood for the vampire genre, Buffy is the more palatable choice.


Friday, November 20, 2009

You are the reason I exist.

Gail Collins, NYTimes columnist:

"I have never believed that everything happens for a reason. But I do feel very strongly that everything happens so that it can be turned into a column."

Or so it can be turned into a blog entry.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Mysteries of Pre-Teen Life Revisited

Teen Magazine really had the pulse on the mysteries of pre-teen life: boyfriends, makeup, and periods. Basically these aspirations translated to crushes, lip gloss and bright nail polish, and period mishaps.

I had a jolly good time flipping through the July 2000 issue of Teen Magazine with a couple of Women's Council members. I don't think I have read an early teenage girls' magazine since that time and I had forgotten about the content of those magazines. I can look back and reminisce and laugh about that time.

I saw a Bonne Bell Lip Gloss ad in the July 2000 issue for lip gloss with a top that flipped open when you pushed a sliding button. I remember that model lip gloss. They don't even make it anymore; I checked the Bonne Bell website. We were all "addicted" to lip glosses, especially Bonne Bell's LipSmackers, in its simple cylindrical tube. They used to be as cheap as $0.99 each, but they're probably close to $2 now. That seemed like make-up to me.

One mainstay of pre-teen magazines were the Embarrassing Moments combining bodily functions, friends and family, and very bad timing. The submissions rated most embarrassing reliably combined periods, boyfriend, and extremely bad timing. A sure winner would be: I got my period when I was having dinner with my boyfriend's parents for the first time. I was wearing a white skirt and I stained their dining room chair!

Cooties did not follow me from fifth grade to sixth grade. I left them scattered like wood chips around the elementary school jungle gym. The pre-teen years made me see boys in a different light. Teen Magazine -- very timely -- was on hand to guide me through this feeling that I really wanted to talk to this boy who was in my class. It answered such burning questions as "How do I know if a boy likes me" and provided valuable advice on a very grown-up skill called flirting. Today I read an article in which a genuine teenage boy described the signs that a girl is interested in a guy: she touches you on the arm or the shoulder and smiles and laughs at everything you say.

Somehow in middle school (and to some extent high school), everyone followed the same conventions of what pre-teens thought romance. It's really cheesy to recall now, but at least we all agreed on those conventions. Yes this shows he is interested in you, no, this means you're just friends. "Going out" meant you were entitled to very intimate privileges such as going to the movies together (even though your parents had to drive you there), holding hands, and slow dancing with the same partner during Fun Nights (6-8pm in the gym with the cougar logo on the floor about once a month, I think).

If only it were still that simple. In my early adolescence, I couldn't imagine something like friends with benefits. Well, I still can't really figure that out. Oh, did we just make out? I didn't mean that. Oh, let's have sex. But I don't mean it either.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Choice Words: Teen Pregnancy on MTV

Teen Pregnancy on MTV
June 29th, 2009 by Chen

Last week I wrote about Young, Single and Pregnant, in which a 22 year old young woman was unexpectedly pregnant and shared her decision to have an abortion on a New York Times blog. This got me thinking about discussions of abortion on TV. MTV has a new show called 16 and Pregnant. It is a one-hour documentary following a teen through her pregnancy as she deals with her family, her friends, and the baby’s father. So far three episodes have aired and I am guilty of having watched two of them. (It’s summer… I got time to watch TV…)

On the one hand, I applaud MTV’s efforts to engage in discussions of sexual behavior in young people through a public information campaign called IYSL, It’s Your Sex Life. The campaign is a pretty good one. It’s in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation, so I know it’s got reputable people behind it. The campaign encourages several things: talking to your partner about sex, getting tested for STDs, and how to protect yourself. Overall, it’s a lot of good information. If you’ve watched MTV, you may have seen the PSAs broadcast during commercial breaks. I’ve definitely seen them.

For a one hour TV documentary that had to compress footage from almost a year, “16 and Pregnant” is pretty good in that it shows many of the hardships of parenthood, if somewhat formulaic. Gossip runs rampant at school, the pregnant girls have to change their lifestyles to accommodate their babies, they have to talk to their baby’s fathers, they have to deal with their own parents.

Watch full episodes of 16 and Pregnant here. The trailer to 16 and Pregnant is here.

16 and Pregnant is used as a part of the It’s Your Sex Life campaign. has clips of the show and uses it as a starting point for discussions about teen pregnancy. Either MTV is massively promoting its own shows or trying to give teens good sex ed information, or some combination of both. The MTV website for the show has links to its IYSL campaign.

All this talk of teen pregnancy via a public information campaign and a new TV show leaves me feeling that we have left out a rather large part of teen pregnancy: teens who terminate their pregnancies or put their children up for adoption. After the trials and tribulations, each teen mom in the show ultimately comes away with optimism and a cute little baby. The show allows us to see these difficulties of motherhood and it also demystifies teen motherhood. I think it’s demystifying that makes it more acceptable. I don’t think that the difficulties of motherhood will necessarily dissuade young girls from becoming parents because people have a great capacity to overcome these difficulties and every mother regardless of her age has to get up in the middle of the night for the baby. It makes me wonder if “16 and Pregnant” has a “war movie effect”. Most war movies glorify war because they emphasize camaraderie, patriotism, sacrifice, and victory. In the same vein, does 16 and Pregnant glorify teen motherhood? And cute babies and loyal soldiers make great television.

The materials on pregnancy in It’s Your Sex Life campaign do talk about abortion and adoption, but MTV’s programming lacks any serious discussion of these options. In 16 and Pregnant, all the girls have decided to raise their babies because that’s the concept of the show. I wish MTV had explored want to explore the decision-making process. Or maybe even have a show that featured girls who had abortions and adoptions. Not that I think for a minute that this will happen, since abortion is a censored word on TV, and MTV isn’t doing anything to demystify adoption or abortion.

Choice Words: The Conclusion to Young, Single, and Pregnant

I'm re-posting some old entries I wrote on Choice Words, the blog of Choice USA, because I want to try to keep all my blog posts together in this personal blog. Many of my writings on Choice Words have already been posted here. These are the ones that were not previously posted here. Choice USA is an awesome organization dedicated to reproductive choice and its intersections, so these posts explore these themes.

Originally published June 17th, 2009 by Chen

Here is the conclusion to the NYTimes blog article Young, Single and Pregnant that I blogged about earlier this week.

The young woman has made her decision after careful consideration. She met with admissions staff of the graduate program she was accepted to, with representatives from an adoption agency, and -- perhaps the hardest conversation to have -- her parents. She writes:

Once I came to the decision to terminate the pregnancy, so much of the guilt and sadness I’d been feeling melted away. I felt happy for the first time since finding out and I feel like my family is supportive of my decision. I’m focusing on the child I’ll have in a few years from now with someone I feel safe with and supported by. The life of that child will be infinitely better than this one and, sometimes, I wonder if such a miserable, lonely woman could even have a healthy child. There’s more to being a good birth mother than avoiding alcohol and eating right and I just don’t know if I have it. I’m a responsible girl but maybe that means knowing when you’ve put too much on yourself and it won’t work out.

For the young woman, I think she made the right decision for her because she put a lot of thought and effort into looking at her options. Her careful consideration moved me because that is really what good decision-making is about. I think she’ll achieve all that she has envisioned for herself.

I’ve been thinking a lot about all that was said on the NYTimes about this article but I don’t have time to write about it now. I’m sneaking in this blog post while I’m at work! Need to go back to work before someone sees me slacking off!

Monday, November 16, 2009

Flash Forward

In a recent conversation, I revealed that I can't imagine myself more than five or seven years into the future. This means that I cannot picture myself to older than 28. Or maybe 10 years in the future at the very most.

Last weekend Monika and I drove around the East Lansing area to look at apartments and houses for rent to live in when we're in medical school this time next year. We were trying to find a house for rent in Okemos. Having seen the ad online, it was in a neighborhood neither of us had been to so we didn't know what kind of houses were there.

We quickly learned that this was probably not a neighborhood that typically rents to poor students. It's a very nice upper middle-class neighborhood -- big houses, mature trees that hide each house from the next. I saw a middle-aged man riding his bike with (presumably) his son behind him on a little bicycle.

There, along the winding tree-lined road, I had a flash of a vision of myself far into the future: me in middle-age, living in a neighborhood with kids, maybe having kids of my own. It was scary. I don't think I'm ready to imagine a time when I'll have finished school, have a career, have an income, a 401K. It's overwhelming to even think about the trappings of middle-age and middle-class life.

I realized that at this point in my life, I actually want a sense of incompleteness. I want this life of a student, the lure of degrees yet to be completed, and the future left open.

Friday, November 13, 2009

statement of faith

I've been thinking about religion this week. I had an encounter with the Wells Hall preacher on Wednesday while tabling with MSU Students for Choice. And before that, I read this awesome entry by pursue sapience. I guess I'm cheating a bit here by copying her instead of writing my own blog entry. But I really like what she had to say.

From pursue sapience:
I am fortunate enough to have people in my life who believe in me. It's a powerful feeling, one which I am unable to properly describe, to have someone put their faith in you. I wonder what the world would be like if, instead of or in addition to putting faith into books and prophets and gods and deities, we channeled the same sort of faith into ourselves and those around us.

I think that there are two uses of the term "faith" here. There is religious belief in the supernatural without evidence or proof, which, I think, neither pursue sapience nor I have. There is the confidence that people have in each other. This support from one person to another is powerful. And it's something pursue sapience and I have to give and wish others would have in us.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

I want this in a picture frame on my desk

Today I found that my maternal grandparents were married in 1949. I also saw this photo of them.

My mom says that in China our family still has a clipping of their wedding announcement from the local Suzhou newspaper, the city where they got married.

And my mom was right all along when she insisted that my grandfather was very good-looking in his youth. He's hot stuff.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

carry with me

Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful, we must carry it with us, or we find it not.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson Essays: First Series, "Art" (1841)

I'm usually apprehensive about selective quoting because it can easily be misinterpreted when taken out of context. But I've had this one on my mind for a while now since I saw it at the body image exhibit at the Union.

Travel, metaphorical and geographical, seemed especially relevant given that I'll be going to Denmark soon. I got approved yesterday.

Also, in a few hours, I'm going to model for a drawing class for the first time and I'll be thinking about this quotation.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

TED Talk: The Danger of a Single Story

Watch This TED Talk. I love it. So touching, so eloquent.

Nigerian novelist
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie talks about the danger of one voice dominating storytelling of a people. Her talk focuses on the single story of Africa told by Europeans and Americans and her experiences as an Africa writer in pushing back against this tradition. She also speaks more broadly to the prevalence of "single stories" perpetuated today about all groups of people by many other people, not Americans against Africans. As a child she believed a narrative of poor uneducated Nigerians until she went to their village and saw how they lived. After living in America, she believed the single story of Mexicans told in anti-immigration debates: poor uneducated people all clamoring to illegally get to the US. When she went to Mexico and actually saw Mexicans doing normal things, she realized she believed the narrative.

It makes me consider what we believe about people we do not personally know, people near and far from here. Geographic distance does not correlate with unfamiliarity.
People who live five, fifty, or five thousand miles from East Lansing can all be foreigners to us, and us foreigners to them. We need not travel far to encounter different ways of life, to see people much but not quite like us.

I wanted to excerpt some parts of her talk, but ended up copying down a lot. In her words:

As the creator of a single story:
I come from a conventional, middle-class Nigerian family. My father was a professor. My mother was an administrator. And so we had, as was the norm, live-in domestic help, who would often come from nearby rural villages. So the year I turned eight we got a new house boy. His name was Fide. The only thing my mother told us about him was that his family was very poor. My mother sent yams and rice, and our old clothes, to his family. And when I didn’t finish my dinner my mother would say, “Finish your food! Don’t you know? People like Fide’s family have nothing.” So I felt enormous pity for Fide’s family.

Then one Saturday we went to his village to visit. And his mother showed us a beautifully patterned basket, made of dyed raffia, that his brother had made. I was startled. It had not occurred to me that anybody in his family could actually make something. All I had heard about them is how poor they were, so that it had become impossible for me to see them as anything else but poor. Their poverty was my single story of them.

As the subject of a single story:
Years later, I thou
ght about this when I left Nigeria to go to university in the United States. I was 19. My American roommate was shocked by me. She asked where I had learned to speak English so well, and was confused when I said that Nigeria happened to have English as its official language. She asked if she could listed to what she called my "tribal music," and was consequently very disappointed when I produced my tape of Mariah Carey. She assumed that I did not know how to use a stove.

What struck me was this: She had felt sorry for me even before she saw me. Her default position toward me, as an African, was a kind of patronizing, well-meaning, pity. My roommate had a single story of Africa. A single story of catastrophe. In this single story there was no possibility of Africans being similar to her, in any way. No possibility of feelings more complex than pity. No possibility of a connection as human equals.

On representations of America:
I would never have occurred to me to think
that just because I had read a novel in which a character was a serial killer that he was somehow representative of all Americans. And now, this is not because I am a better person than that student, but, because of America's cultural and economic power, I had many stories of America.

On the dangers of a single story:
I've always felt that it is impossible
to engage properly with a place or a person without engaging with all of the stories of that place and that person. The consequence of the single story is this: It robs people of dignity. It makes our recognition of our equal humanity difficult. It emphasizes how we are different rather than how we are similar.

This Blog by Numbers

Total entries: 65
First entry: May 4, 2008
Duration of blog: 78 weeks
Average entries per week: 0.833 but I'm posting more frequently now!

Frequency of labels:
13: feminism
10: NYT, school
8: DC
7: books, politics
6: life, medicine, work, blog
5: China, sex
4: asian-american, activism, race, science
3: art, food, gender
2: choice, domestic violence, mom, museums, rant, research
1: A2, atheism, BBC, cat, childhood, EL, HIV/AIDS, kids, LGBT, money, music, orchestra, poetry poverty, tv

This gives me some idea of what issues are addressed most frequently here, but I often forget to label entries for all relevant tags.

Feminists flirt

From Isabel Allende's TED Talk:

I found this funny:
"For most Western young women of today,
being called a feminist is an insult. Feminism has never been sexy, but let me assure you that it never stopped me from flirting, and I have seldom suffered from lack of men."

Sounds like there are plenty of men who find feminism sexy.